By Don Simpson | September 15, 2009
Director: Faythe Levine
Handmade Nation is a documentary film about the modern D.I.Y. crafting community directed by one of its own – Faythe Levine (founder of Milwaukee’s independent craft fair Art vs. Craft as well as co-owner and curator of Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery). Levine traveled almost 20,000 miles and interviewed countless craftsters and crafty business owners across the United States to document the seemingly all-encompassing crafting community.
There has been significant growth in the D.I.Y. crafting movement during the last decade, primarily because of the craftsters’ willingness to share ideas and encourage each other by networking on the internet and at independent marketplaces (boutiques, galleries, craft fairs, fashion shows, etc.). Before 2000, when one thought of crafts there was immediately a quaint and simple image of a blue-haired old lady crocheting or quilting with a cat curled up on her lap. Think about it – most women were expected to be crafty up until the 1970s, some even into the 1980s; then, crafting became an evil word for most women – most likely as a conscious or subconscious rebellion because it was an expectation for so long. A few craftless generations passed and suddenly crafting became the wild new craze in certain hip teen thru thirty-something circles; but it was a new kind of crafting – blending historical technique with punk ethos and D.I.Y. ethics. The attitude changed – so did the product, the reception and the marketplace. Also the gender bias vanished – as there are more men doing crafty things (thanks in part to the resurgence of screen printing).
Now, considering the current state of the economy and the desire of some segments of the population to press the proverbial reset button, there are all kinds of new economic and social issues within the modern D.I.Y. crafting community as it pits itself against the capitalistic monster (thriving on foreign sweatshop labor, high profit margins, international trade, quantity-over-quality, and conformity). Capitalism took a major hit this year (though maybe it is slowly gaining its sea legs again?) and this seems like an opportune time to consider re-imagining our roles as both consumers and producers; perhaps try a new economy based predominantly on creativity and community. But I’ll hop off this soapbox, since Handmade Nation opts not to go there; actually, it lacks any cohesive purpose, meaning or history (a documentary such as this one probably needs a little space and time to digest and interpret the movement as a whole from some time in the future) – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s more of a personal preference.
Levine dives in head first right at the moment everything is happening, and she allows the craftsters to guide the conversation in whatever direction they please. We meet the craftsters and learn a little about what most of them do, but Levine never really delves into any deep philosophical (or economic or sociological) discussions.
Handmade Nation begged to be made and I bet it will be graciously embraced by the D.I.Y. crafting community. I also predict that a lot of Levine’s footage (clocking in at a mere 65 minutes, it’s obvious that 100s of hours of tape were left on the editing floor) will be recycled, resurfacing years from now in a documentary looking back on what the D.I.Y. crafting community was doing in the mid-to-late aughts and the [positive] effects that it will [hopefully] have on our future.
I also must mention that as an Austinite (and, yes, I am further biased being that I am Tina Sparkles’ fiancée) it is impossible not to notice the absence of discussion about the importance of the Austin Craft Mafia or Stitch (two instigating forces of the advent of the D.I.Y. crafting movement). Jenny Hart is the only Austin Craft Mafia member featured in Handmade Nation (Tina Sparkles does have a minute or so of screen time).